Pride Month — Propositioned by my best friend

This memory from my 15-year-old self swept through me like a tsunami recently, days after I started writing these stories about Pride Month. Truth be told, the night in question hadn’t crossed my mind in many years. I’d seemingly forgotten all about it, until it came flooding back.

I had a best friend in junior high school, let me call him William. He’s right next to me in the panoramic photo of our graduating class out in front of Washington Junior High School in 1965. He was much bigger than me —  6’ 6” at least, and he must have outweighed me by 100 pounds. A big boy.

Ah, those confusing teenage years. I didn’t understand what was happening to me then, but I do now. I had recently broken ties with my gang of neighborhood terrorists — my younger brothers and our friends. I was the oldest in the group, so I was the first to embark upon a quest to forge a new identity of my own, independent creation.

One of my greatest regrets in life comes from this time when I insisted everyone in my family call me by my given name, not by the nickname my grandfather had given me at birth. Outside of school, everyone I knew addressed me by that nickname. One day I rejected it in order to be just plain old Sam. If my decision hurt his feelings, my grandfather, who lived in a little travel trailer out back next to the garage, never let me know. He was one the wisest men I’ve ever known, so I’m guessing he probably understood. I sure hope so. I was adamant about being called Sam. No power, not even my love for my grandfather, could sway me.

I may have been working on forming my own identify, but certain aspects were already firmly set. About this time, I spent the night at William’s upstairs apartment on Blackstone Avenue near Dickey Playground, across the street from the Busy Bee Market. He had a single bed in his room, so we made a pallet on the floor with some old blankets from the linen closet.

We stayed up late yaking, and as we finally got ready to go to sleep, he propositioned me. I wasn’t interested, and I expressed my sexual preference for girls, even though I’d never been with one. I just told him, “I can’t.”

As I look at it now, I realize William must have been gay, and this must have been his way of coming out to me, his way of seeking to start a relationship between us. Not only did I reject his advance, I also expressed an interest in girls.

If this situation was as I suspect, I must have unknowingly broken his heart twice that night. First, I rejected him, and then I said I preferred girls. I don’t regret the rejections because I’ve never been interested in a gay relationship. I’m way too straight for my own good. But I do regret how I handled it.

I could have been, I should have been, more understanding and compassionate and dealt with this situation in a way that might have spared his feelings and saved our friendship. I just refused and moved on without even thinking about that would make him feel. We were best friends, but I was never interested in him that way. Not in the least. And I didn’t know he had such feelings for me. Now that I’ve been around the block a tine or two, I know how much it hurts when someone you love rejects you. I didn’t know that then.

The only excuse I can offer is that I was young, dumb and inexperienced, and I really didn’t understand such things. As you might imagine, this created a rift between us we could never cross. Despite our friendship, we never saw each other again after that night.